Twenty young couples from the Valley who were married within the last five years, with at least one Jewish spouse and under the age of 40 participated in a pilot trip for Honeymoon Israel. The life-changing journey in the Holy Land took place over 10 days, in which the couples explored Judaism through amazing experiences and in-depth discussion.
“Woven into the fabric of the trip were daily conversations where the couples were able to ‘unpack’ each day, wrap their heads around their experiences and delve into how the experience will translate back home,” said Erin Searle of the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix. “For the non-Jewish spouses, it was an introduction to Judaism. Each evening or morning, there was time to reflect on the day, what was learned and how to take it back—what their lives will look like when they return—how will the children be raised? How will they incorporate the values, holidays, etc.”
The trip’s itinerary included spending time with Israelis with special needs, touring the Old City, experiencing home hospitality in the Druze community, Havdallah with local young Jewish couples in Tel Aviv, rafting the Jordan, touring the mystical city of Tzfat; as well as floating in the Dead Sea, exploring Masada, and having two Shabbat experiences in the Holy Land—one in Tel Aviv and the other in Jerusalem.
“Celebrating Shabbat in the two locations allowed the participants to see how, even in one small country, Shabbat can be celebrated in very different ways,” said Searle.
Searle and Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz, director of Valley Beit Midrash staffed the trip and will follow up with participants individually and as a group to continue the sense of community created among the couples. The ultimate goal is to connect them to and engage them with the larger Jewish community.
Searle, who has been to Israel 10 times with groups such as Taglit-Birthright Israel, was affected by going with a more mature group that included non-Jewish spouses. She was touched by their interest and thoughtful questions, as well as how welcoming and sharing the group was, especially in their daily discussions.
“Being with 20 couples where not everyone is Jewish was interesting,” said Searle. “They were thoughtful and reflective. In our discussion after our visit to the Western Wall, even the non-Jewish spouses said they felt something there, the history and religious relevance of the site.”
The couples had a Shabbat lunch in July which included the couples’ children—eleven of the 20 couples have children. Other events will be planned based on the interests of the group, including a Challah baking class and family events with PJ Library.
Funding for the post-trip programming was provided by the Federation as part of its NowGen initiative to engage young Jewish adults within the community and the Jewish Foundation of Greater Phoenix.